First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers go out from NFPA to the families, communities and first responders who are impacted by the number of recent fire tragedies filling the headlines. For those of us who devote our careers to making the world safer from fire, these stories shake us to our core.
As I read of the horrendous fire in Oakland this weekend where at least 36 people lost their lives, and then saw coverage of a 10 alarm fire outside Boston that left more than 100 homeless; a fire in a hotel in Pakistan that killed 11; and continuing coverage of the Tennessee wildfires where the death toll has reached 14, I couldn’t help but think about what they all had in common. As different as the scenarios are, they are a painful reminder that we have not solved the fire problem and we must remain ever vigilant on the things that have helped us dramatically reduce the amount of loss in recent decades.
Codes and standards, a robust enforcement system and public education have all combined to bring the number of deaths, injuries and dollar loss down. But with that success has come a level of complacency that we see in so many of today’s scenarios. No one thinks it’s an issue until it’s an issue. I’m sure for folks in Oakland, fire safety was not top of mind when they attended an event there or folks in Tennessee may not have seen wildfire as a major issue to the extent many people in California do.
These fires remind us that the threats and challenges facing the public and first responders continue to change. In Oakland, the changing occupancy of that building may have only been known to those who lived or worked there, not to the fire service or other officials. This is likely a scenario happening in other places around the country. The ability to attract large numbers of people to an unknown venue is easy through newer ways of social media. Couple that with the rate of speed things can go from bad to worse when there are blocked or not enough exits and lots of combustibles.
They remind us that our work is not done and we should make every effort to see the learnings from all of them are used in our codes and standards, enforcement and public education work just as we have throughout history. This is how we can ensure that we continue to reduce loss and avoid complacency.
More information on these incidents and NFPA resources can be found under breaking news at nfpa.org.